What is cyber flashing? Meaning of online behaviour, and is it illegal as MPs call for online safety bill overhaul

MPs aire aiming to overhaul an online safety law which could offer more protection to victims of cyber-flashing - but what does the terms actually mean?

MPs are set to overhaul an online safety law which protects victims of cyber-flashing - but what exactly does the term mean? (Credit: Shutterstock)MPs are set to overhaul an online safety law which protects victims of cyber-flashing - but what exactly does the term mean? (Credit: Shutterstock)
MPs are set to overhaul an online safety law which protects victims of cyber-flashing - but what exactly does the term mean? (Credit: Shutterstock)

MPs are aiming to offer more protection to victims of cyber flashing with an overhaul of the Online Safety Bill.

A new report by a committee of MPs and peers has shown that the UK’s online safety bill will need a major overhaul to protect people from harm online.

This includes victims of cyber flashing, which is currently not covered by the bill.

But what exactly is cyber flashing, and is it illegal?

What is cyber flashing?

Cyber flashing is the act of sending an unsolicited explicit or sexual image via an online platform or any file-sharing applications.

Reports of cyber flashing have increased in the past two decades in line with the rise in technology and social media.

Often, people may receive unwanted images on public transport due to the ability of applications such as Apple’s AirDrop, which allows photo-sharing among devices within a short distance of each other.

Often applications such as AirDrop or even social media site such as Twitter can grant the sender a certain anonymity.

The name ‘cyber flashing’ comes from the crime of flashing someone - inappropriately showing genitals in public - but on a tech platform.

Is cyber flashing illegal?

Despite flashing in real life being illegal, cyber flashing is currently not illegal in England and Wales.

However, it has been illegal in Scotland since 2010.

MPs in England and Wales are now backing plans to outlaw the practice after worrying statistics emerged from the British Transport Police (BTP).

BTP said that reports of cyber flashing on public transport had doubled year-on-year in 2019, rising from 34 reports to 66.

However, this number is expected to be much higher due to the fact that many incidents of cyber flashing go unreported.

Will cyber flashing be made illegal?

MPs are hopeful that the online behaviour will soon become a crime in England and Wales.

Following a review of the current online safety bill by a committee of MPs and peers, it was suggested that a complete overhaul of the bill was needed to make cyber flashing and other online offences illegal.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has been vocal about her support in making the practice illegal, stating that cyber flashing becoming a criminal offence is within the scope of the new bill.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has backed the calls to make cyber flashing illegal, stating in November 2021 that it should be outlawed.

What is the Online Safety Bill and what will it cover?

The Online Safety Bill is currently being created to bring in more accountability to the technology industry, with the committee’s Conservative chair Damian Collins describing it as the “land of the lawless”.

The committee has suggested that the bill will need to be overhauled to protect those using online services and social media platforms.

Within the bill, MPs will hope to outlaw cyber flashing, punishing platforms for hosting fraudulent adverts and prevent children from accessing pornography.

The committee’s report also suggested that a digital ombudsman is created to deal with complaints and suggested a requirement for social media sites and tech companies to implement mechanisms to deal with abusive anonymous accounts.

Mr Collins said: “A lack of regulation online has left too many people vulnerable to abuse, fraud, violence and in some cases even loss of life.”

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